What to do when the booming Bud Light and Bank of America floats full of gyrating revelers have drifted off into the Pride sunset, and only the discarded pink tutus, purple wigs, Captain Morgan rainbow flags, broken drag queen heels, jubilantly torn-off t-shirts, and iridescent streamers remain?
Instead of sweeping it all into, well, wherever our garbage goes these days, the ingenious folks at Schlomer Haus Gallery in the Castro and Venables Bell & Partners ad agency teamed up to challenge 10 queer, mostly local artists to transform the spectacle’s residue into striking works of art, with 100% of the proceeds from the works’ sale going to benefit Queer LifeSpace mental health services.
The results, in a show titled What Remains (through Sept 30 at Schlomer Haus, then moving down the street to the SF LGBT Center for several more months) are spectacular, ranging from well-known artists like Jason Mecier, who contributes a purple-saturated portrait of Lil Nas X in his patented trash-collage style, and Jamil Hellu, who manages to clutch a wee rainbow flag between his well-sculpted butt cheeks, to artists I was unfamiliar with but need to know more about.
The older Pride flag becomes a Jasper Johns curio in a Raschenbergian phantasmagoria of Pride commercialization in Alexander Hernandez’s “Pride Patchwork”; a hysterical leprechaun-like energy literally leaps from the walls in Hernandez’s Robert-Gober-meets-Mike-Kelly sculpture “Untitled (Legs in a Jockstrap).” Monica Canilao creates a gorgeous gown-like sculpture brimming with delicate pink plastic floral leis in “Bakla” (the Filipino word for “queer” or “womanish”)—those same leis are crushed together and photographed by Marcel Pardo Ariza, forming a backdrop for a naked torso self-portrait, showing the artist’s top-surgery scars.
Nat Saia’s celebratory, Oldenbergian soft sculpture treatment of the Pride “Progress” flag, Alma Landeta’s brilliant illustration of throwing “the first brick at Stonewall” surrounded by exploded balloon parts on fragile glass… There’s much to think about and see here, and if you’re around for the next week, you should definitely catch it at the gallery, or drop into The Center later. And maybe even purchase something!
“We didn’t exactly follow the floats with trash bags,” Schlomer Haus’ Steffan Schlarb, who co-owns the gallery with Brandon Romer, told me about the project. “It was a, shall we say, more curated effort—for example, Juanita More had people collect usable refuse from her annual Pride party.” (Ah, so that explains so much “Juanita More” swag incorporated into the artworks. Canny, that Juanita.)
“This year has been such a nightmare for queer people, with what’s happened with Target and Bud Light, not to mention this enormous global backlash to queer rights, so we wanted to make a commentary on that in some way. So once the refuse was collected, we reached out to 10 artists that we had either worked with before, or wanted to work with, and whose practice we knew would align with this idea. We said, “Come, go through the bags, and take anything you want and make anything you want. But the through line is that we want it to be something about Pride, what does Pride mean?
“And then we wanted to really continue the contribution to the community by donating all the proceeds to Queer LifeSpace, as great organization that’s so essential right now with its mental health services. We wanted it to be a direct benefit to the community. And we ended up getting some really great pieces! We really didn’t know what kind of crap we were going to get after the parade, and we didn’t want to be too prescriptive about it. We wanted it to be true to the artists.
“But it was still kind of a shot in the dark. We’re so happy with the results, and kind of relieved that it all worked,” Schlarb laughed.
WHAT REMAINS through September 30 at Schlomer Haus Gallery, SF. More info here. (After September 30 on view at the LGBT Center, SF.) You can see more about the art and artists at the What Remains website.